Covid: the bother with boosters

Submitted by martin on 21 September, 2021 - 6:55 Author: Martin Thomas
Covid shot

The British government is acting as if it has opted for extra jabs as its first line against the probable new Covid surge in winter.

Those, rather than social improvements (ventilation, workers’ control of workplace safety, full isolation pay for all, boosting the NHS and reversing privatisation, improved housing, improved social care) or mild restrictions (mandatory mask-wearing and work-from-home, limits on indoor crowding).

While the government has spent billions on extra vaccines, and test-trace contracts of dubious efficacy, it still stonewalls on proper isolation pay for workers in... Covid test centres! (After pressure from the Safe and Equal campaign and Emily Thornberry MP, it made promises, but stonewalls on the big loopholes).

The start of the new school term has come with (contrary to predictions which Solidarity never shared) a slight dip in Covid cases. A rise as we go towards winter is probable, with the seasonal patterns of the virus, more indoors time, universities restarting, and the fading of voluntary Covid precautions.

Widespread vaccination has reduced Covid case fatality rates to something comparable to a bad flu season; but may well not block an autumn-winter rise in transmission.

There is some evidence from Israel that booster vaccinations (now started by Britain for all over-50s) reduce transmission and serious cases, and Britain’s scientific Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) concluded that the (small) extra protection from jabs for 12-15 year olds may outweigh the (small) risk of bad side-effects.

So the new Tory policy may “work” to some extent and in its own terms. Israel started boosters from 20 July, and Germany, France, Ireland, Czechia and others have followed.

Yet scientists have protested. The World Health Organisation has called for a “moratorium” on boosters, and extra jabs to be used first for the very vulnerable people denied them in poorer countries.

Sub-Saharan Africa has only 2% of people fully vaccinated. The world jab rate is still jogging along at 0.4 per 100 people per day. The WHO-backed initiative to get vaccines to poorer countries, Covax, has been starved of supplies.

Beyond that, Solidarity campaigns for Big Pharma to be taken into public ownership, to allow a coordinated world drive to spread technical know-how freely, to multiply vaccine production sites, and to distribute vaccines.

The booster drive is also problematic in the longer term. Neither booster jabs nor lockdowns are going to abolish Covid. The best estimate from scientists for an endgame is that it evolves into a disease which we all get (except the unlucky ones so old or frail that we die of something else first), but, eventually, we almost always get it mildly, first as young children, than with an increasing degree of broad immunity after successive infections.

If that’s anywhere near right, then the guideline is: catch Covid young; or, if you’re too old for that but not yet frail, get vaccinated before your first infection; or, if old or frail, get vaccinated regularly.

Blanket repeat vaccination in the short term diverts supply from first-time vaccination in poorer countries, and longer-term may slow the fading of Covid’s threat and increase the risk from probable future spikes. It also diverts from the measures for social equality and social provision which can reduce the toll long-term both from Covid and from other disease.

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